Faithful Friends to the End

Rocky and Buster lived to be old men in cat years. As all pet owners know, when you open your heart and your life to an animal there will come that time you don’t like to think about. The terrible, horrible goodbye. For Rocky, our gentle giant who never met a stranger, it was just that he was old and weak in the hips. When he fell and couldn’t get back up the decision was easy. Elaine’s Dad insisted on going and the tough old Texas oil man cried like a baby as they administered the shot and he fell asleep in her arms.

And poor Buster grieved the loss of the cat he was never without. He actually hung his head and it was painful to watch. Our beautiful Bustini who looked like he had royalty in his veins, with his sleek Abyssinian body, cinnamon coloring and jewel green eyes was in mourning.

Enter stage left……..Briggs. We mistakenly thought bringing a kitten home would help poor Buster. Elaine was still sorely grieving Rocky when we wandered into PetSmart one day. They always say (and it’s true) you don’t find a cat, they find you.

It’s been my experience they enter your life when you need them most. 

It’s a spiritual thing. I would be skeptical if I hadn’t seen it happen over and over. The magical power of the purr is well known to anyone who has known and loved a cat.

To those whose tears have been absorbed by the soft fur of a creature who somehow knows what to do with our emotional pain with grace and understanding is to partake in a small miracle.

Anyway, there were kittens. One in particular was running around like crazy and Elaine heard the man say, “Who would ever take that freaky cat? He’s nuts.” Or something like that. I said, “Look at his long legs, just like Rocky!” Elaine has always had a soft spot for the underdog, (undercat in this instance). As she bent to pick him up, he burrowed into her neck and gave the loudest purr she had ever heard. Hence the name, Briggs, for the Briggs and Stratton engines.

It was love at first sight.

But not for poor Buster. His little soul wanted to play so very badly but his poor body was just too sick. Little Briggs was constantly rebuffed. Buster retreated under my bed and we knew it was only a matter of time before he joined Rocky. It was a nightmare. Every day I’d look under the bed expecting the worst. One night he tried to jump up on the bed where he slept with me and didn’t make it.

The next day we wrapped him in a towel and we made the second trip to the vet. It was determined he had cancer. They rattled off all these things we could do to the tune of thousands of dollars. It all felt very cold. We decided Buster deserved better, so I held him in my arms as they administered the lethal dose that would end his suffering. Our little comedian, paperboy, growler, part dog part cat was gone.

Our grief was immense. We buried Buster next to Rocky, out in the corner by the fire pit. Could any other cat be big enough to fill that void? Of course you never replace a cat or dog, just like you don’t replace a child, you add to. And Briggs proved very worthy of the task. He played so hard he actually did somersaults and panted like a dog. I had to wrap him in a blanket and make him a taco kitty to get him to stop so he could rest. When he got tired he would lay on his belly on the tile floor with his back legs straight out.

We decided to take him on a road trip to California when he was about 8 or 9 weeks old. We gave him the whole back seat but he insisted on riding on Elaine’s shoulder as she drove. He had his first taste of ice-cream on that trip and got a big fancy jungle gym from Auntie Carolyn.

I’ll never forget his little eager face when I would come back to the car after getting gas or snacks. His eyes actually lit up, he knew me! He succeeded in stealing both our hearts. But the time was coming to get him a companion. Briggs needed a brother.

Enter Sydney……

Taking a breath

Taking a breath

This season in my life is especially difficult for us all, and COVID has made everything worse. Dad has landed in a Convalescent Home. It all started the night Mom called me in a panic at 2:30 AM shouting into the phone, “Are you there, Lori, Lori, I need to call her…..” We had had several panic calls from Dad over the past year and I just figured this was another one. Something about this one seemed different.

When I rounded the corner and saw the ambulance and firetruck my heart dropped. It dropped even further when I came in and saw Dad lying on the bedroom floor with blood behind his head. Some things you cannot un-see, and that one will be there forever. They left so fast, there was no time to find his ID. Elaine thought to look in his pants pocket and we then rushed them to the hospital.

After several days he came home and collapsed again. 

So we are a small village of caretakers now. My brother, myself, Elaine and I. Mom can’t stay alone. I go from one place to another and back again. Mom doesn’t remember why Dad is there and asks continually when he’s coming home. It’s been mostly bad, but there a few moments here and there that we laugh together, and she expresses the joy of a child when I warm a blanket and throw it over her. 

I made her table look like Christmas and she exclaims surprise and joy all over again when she sees it. 

I feel like my soul is scoured out most of the time. Empty. I don’t do what I used to do. I no longer sit by the river, it gives me no comfort. I see it and it moves by soundlessly but it doesn’t touch me. I am continually distracted by the next phone call, the next text. My life right now is a treadmill and a schedule. Driven by the clock.

And yet, I have a best friend who is my emotional rock. She’s a pillar of strength. I’m not going it alone. There will be an end to this all. And God will be ready to embrace them both when it’s their time. Until then we do what we have to do to make things better for them. 

Books remain a joy, God has left me that. I snatch moments now and then. I can’t read at Moms because the questions are nonstop. She is trying so hard to map her world out right now. I feel so sad for her.

Churches remain closed and it amazes me how our whole world has changed since we stood on the beach at Moss Landing on the cusp of 2020. I wonder what has happened to us? I can’t help feeling in some ways this pandemic has revealed the apathy of the American church. How we have changed from the Pilgrims who risked everything to be able to worship freely. How much we have changed from our parents and grandparents generation. 

Have we caved into fear, or is it the right thing for society as a whole to keep everyone “safe?” Was being safe even a consideration of the early church? Have we missed the opportunity to show the world what God can do? It’s hard to know what’s right anymore. I don’t pretend to have the answers. Thankfully, God remains the same. Yesterday today and forever.  On that we can be assured. His mercy remains the same as well, thankfully.

Until then we soldier on and do the best we can. Help each other the best we can. We will get through this. It’s almost a new year and I need to remember who Jesus is. I have felt lost this whole year, but maybe writing can help me find my way back home. 

Whoever is still sticking with my inconsistent blogging, here’s to a hopeful 2021. My prayers and best wishes go with you all.

Before the World Stirs

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I awoke in the dark to owls calling. I counted three slightly different tones. Weigumina the cat led me to our early dawn swing session, tail in the air as cats do. She likes to head bonk my coffee cup so I had to hold it up to keep it from sloshing while she settled on my lap. My thoughts took on the rhythm of the swing. Another weekend, a little island oasis of rest once more and for that I am so grateful.

As I often do, I was thinking about Creation and all its creatures. Feeling the absence of our little Briggs still I was ruminating about people who call themselves “Dog people” and “Cat people” and how that can’t really be a thing unless you don’t dig deep enough into your own soul. To fully enjoy what both have to offer us as companions is to embrace each unique difference.

And do you ever hear people define themselves as a bug person as opposed to a fish person? God could have stopped at one hundred or one thousand animals, but He kept going. Why? Because He has a boundless love for the beauty of individuality.

To quote James Herriot:

I have felt cats rubbing their face against mine and touching my cheek with claws carefully sheathed. These things, to me, are expressions of love.

And of dogs:

If I had been a little dog I’d have gone leaping and gamboling around the room wagging my tail furiously…..And, “Dogs like to obey. It gives them security.

I am thinking of Daney now, the service dog at our school. How she comes up to me friendly faced with a favorite toy, wagging her tail in greeting each day. It is a comfort to stroke her soft ears, and see the loving trust in her eyes.

I think of the beauty of the sunrise and the moonrise. How different they are but each has the power to take your breath away. I think of my many years in the desert and how captivated I became of the desperate and wild beauty there. What a loss if I had closed my mind to it and refused to let it speak to my soul.

And now I’m back here in California where there is not as much sky to see because of the trees (messy trees says E.) Soon the leaves will be scarlet and every shade of yellow and orange. It’s the weekend again. These are stressful times for us all, and yet I have this little island of peace at the end of the week.

A thought on love and loss: Every heart has its own time and way of mending and each must determine when the time is right to receive another. That loss is a sacred part of us we will never forget and we shouldn’t, yet there is something in us that knows that it is right and good to move on.

Goodbye faithful friend….

Goodbye faithful friend….

The dawn broke around us gently and beautifully with promise but with a pall quiet as a distant church bell of sorrow. Tomorrow we lose you and it doesn’t seem real. Tears come and go at unexpected times but we keep to the rhythm of the day’s routines because somehow that rhythm is comforting. As if things are as they’ve always been for the past 20 years. 

You get as many treats as you want today, buddy. You have told us in your own way that it’s time. You are hurting and we know it. Tomorrow our world will have been shifted off its axis as it does after a loss. The reminders will come, like darts to the heart. 

We will think we hear you everywhere. We will wait for the familiar sound of your feet jumping off the bed heading to your bowl for a drink. We will watch for you underneath our feet and the emptiness will feel unbearable. Everyone thinks their dog or cat is the best, but you truly lived up to what E. called you, perfect Briggs. You never got sick, never did a thing wrong, never had an accident in the house. You always came out to greet company. You were a people cat. A cat of cats. 

Thank you for making me laugh this sad morning. I thought maybe you would forget about secondses, but when I looked down you were looking up at me waiting for your second helping of fish eye gravy (it’s really Fancy Feast but it looks like fish eyes). We will think of you at Shrimp-o’clock, and five in the morning and every hour in between. 

Your name plate remains forever, Briggs Dupree: Venture Capitalist by day, Jazz Musician by night, and larger than life Superhero changing into your red and blue cape to save us. Because sometimes, God knew we would need something soft and furry that purrs or barks that comforts the way no human can.

A World in Pause Mode

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Life has been suspended and I can’t help feeling that for once, on this day it feels right. I remember as a kid when things closed and everyone flocked to church at noon on Good Friday. I also remember being glad when it was rainy or cloudy because that also seemed right on this day of days.

“Oh Jesus, what you went through so that we could have forever with You. When the shadow of the cross fell it reached all the way to Heaven and even silenced the Angels. They had never seen the Father hide His face from the Son. Ever. But that day was unlike any other day that will ever happen again.”

This shutdown has not been without benefit, in every adverse situation the good arises like a sweet perfume. The weeds grow along with the seeds, it’s just that the weeds are visible right away. But the good seeds are working their magic down below where we can’t see.  I believe we will have a lasting benefit from this time.

We will remember the quiet times, the books we read. The times spent talking, learning new games, getting to know each other again. Maybe all this family time, cooking and eating together, stretching our imaginations and praying more will have a lasting effect. Not to mention going a little bit crazy. 

What I’ve been learning from all this is what I have taken for granted, the simple little things. I have always been a person who has been intentional about not doing this and yet, I have realized that to some extent, I have. Who ever thought hugging someone we love would feel like a luxury, a risk, something forbidden.

Each morning. I have tried to go outside at first light and celebrate a little resurrection. I close my eyes and concentrate on all the noises I hear. It’s a blessing to have these mornings at home. Not having to get ready for anything. Downtime. Then there’s the downside.

Honestly some days it feels a little bit like the shadow of death is hovering all around us. Seeing loved ones only from a distance. Not being able to go, to help, to do. So close, so far away.

I’m thankful I have had someone (thank you E) to laugh and cry with during all this. It’s been a blessing to help those in our circle who are alone. 

I’m reminded in Scripture that this is only a light and momentary affliction. The other side of eternity stretches much further than we can see right now, but it’s still there, waiting for us. Because of the horrible, awfulness Jesus went through for us. Because He loves us.

The Trinity worked a beautiful plan my friends, and we can all partake of it. This pandemic will pass, but what will not pass is the empty tomb. It stands open and glowing with hope. Today we remember how our Savior was battered and bloody beyond recognition but on Sunday we remember how Satan was defeated.

Death has indeed lost its sting. Again. Thanks be to God.

Extraordinary Grace


This is a thankful post on a day we celebrate things like that. It’s about a regular day, yesterday, which was just about perfect. To start, I was off work and the anticipation of having five days off contributed to a general feeling of well being. That in itself is something to give thanks for. In addition we had a real honest to goodness storm with rain and wind. It wreaked havoc with leaves, branches and debris in its wake, but the air was fresh and clean and I took deep life-giving breaths as I stood on the river bank.

The river rolled by looking so smooth and pure I had to stop and say what I call an “awe” prayer. It’s the kind of prayer that is more just an exclamation of exultant joy at the beauty that God has given us. The yard was a mess. I dragged a few big branches to the river’s edge and threw them in. I took a few photos and then went back up our little hill to the Motorhome.

The floor Elaine put in looks fantastic, gives it a whole new look. It was a real pleasure to see that ugly linoleum gone. I found a classical Christmas station which was very pretty but was a bit melancholy so I switched it to Smooth Jazz Christmas and that added to the general feeling of well-being.

After we got ready to tackle items on our list, we went to breakfast at the Hollywood cafe and as usual the staff was wonderful and the food was excellent. We had Joe’s special which was scrambled eggs with hamburger, cheese, fresh spinach with hash browns and toast. We stopped by the Animal Shelter to measure the shelf for the carpet for Coco. Last time I was there he had a terrible trying to get a grip on the slick shelf.

After that we got all the stuff on our list including baseboards to finish off the floor. We had a great time getting everything on our list. I saw some truly miserable people at the grocery store which made me sad for them. I have been where they are.

There was a time not so long ago where I was unmoved by everything. It was a tough time. I didn’t care about reading, nature, anything that usually lifted my spirits. If not for Elaine (and lots of prayer) I don’t know what I would have done. She patiently told me to snap out of it and that made me laugh despite myself. Seriously though, it took lots of prayer, counseling and “motoring” through it. And the Doctor put me on a low dose of Zoloft, which I still take. There may be a time when it’s right to go off of it, but for now it’s working for me.

I guess that’s why I am so grateful for the good days. I remember the despair. There are many more good days now and I enjoy going to the library once again. People wonder why I go every week, but it’s like a tonic to me, even with all the homeless hanging around there. I am happy books make me happy again.

The end of the day had a bit of drama but nothing that tarnished the day for me. The opportunity presented itself to give Mom a hug and that was appreciated. We ended the day with a bit of Amaretto, a yearly Christmas treat. I fell asleep to the sound of rain again. It was marvelous.

It put me in mind of another day a long time ago when Mom and I had a good day together and we were listening to Susan Boyle sing “A Perfect Day.” Mom said, “This was a perfect day.” I told her, yes indeed, it was. 

It lives in my memory, and so will this day. I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving from my humble Prayer Closet.

Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night. Rainer Maria Rilke

The Aftermath

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I was restless when I got home from work because I had eaten too much of the wrong food, like chocolate chips right out of the bag, and that cookie I got from Panda Express the other day. I had to get out, so I pedaled out into the neighborhood and made my blood pump a little faster through my veins. This bike and I, we’re old friends. It’s a sturdy Raleigh that I will never give up, it is solid like a tank. Not one of those titanium lightweight models.

On the way to the main road I saw a van emptying the house of a woman who recently passed away. Died of a massive heart attack. On the side of it was written, “Aftermath.” As if all that’s left of a life could possibly fit in that van. I hope she didn’t die alone. I pedaled on, past the van with the old bed mattresses and furniture and odds and ends stuffed inside.

The dogwoods both pink and white are blooming all over town, and the wisteria. The cherry trees too. Fruit stands will be popping up now. I meant to pedal past the little Library on Edgewood but I missed it. I got sidetracked by the lake, I hadn’t meant to go that far. The evening was so impossibly perfect I went further than I meant to.

I kept pedaling and passed by two houses I used to deliver meals to for the senior center. I envisioned each face, wondered how they were doing. I also passed by the cat lady’s house. Used to, she had a sign up in her yard asking for donations for cat food. I made a note to leave some money next time. It must have been close to feeding time, several were milling around the front porch. I said hi to them and waved to her.

I would be happy with any one of the houses I passed by. I miss having a house, planting and doing and cleaning what you have a stake in. I have a kind of sorrow for our stuff all boxed up in storage. I am okay if I don’t think about it and really I don’t miss it most of the time. I hope my bed is okay, I hope the brass isn’t tarnished, I hope the artwork is not being destroyed by the elements. I hope the teacups aren’t smashed to smithereens.

My time is filled with helping Special needs kids at school, which has been a tremendous opportunity and each day I am thankful God gave me the work. It has opened up a whole new place in me that I didn’t know existed. And I come home and it really does feel like home here in this idyllic spot of beauty by the river. Each day Elaine does her magic to make this whole thing work. Okra is coming up back behind the Motorhome and we are excited about that.

This latest chapter of my life involves helping my Mom remember things. The other night I looked out to see a crescent moon with a star shining by it. I called Mom and told her to go out and look up at that moon. I asked her if she remembered calling me in Arizona when she saw a moon like that because it reminded her of me. She said, “Did I do that? Wow, that’s amazing. Well, I’m glad you live here now.”

I said, “I am too Mom, I am too.”

Christmas with the Kittizens

 

This morning I decided to bundle up and go down for some prayer and quiet time. I felt I needed it, though I confess I didn’t much feel like it. I opened the gate which was blocked by a snowbank of leaves from the disastrous winds yesterday.

I called to Weigumina, (sister) to come along. She hadn’t followed me down there since her injury and I missed her. Her brother had since taken her place and I think she felt a little pushed out of shape about that. (These are the neighbor cats but they aren’t home much and we started feeding them because we felt sorry for them) We took to calling her Weigumina because Vern Weigum had his 1956 Belair parked in my Aunt’s carport and that was her favorite place to enjoy the sun.

Once down there I fired up my heater and shut the door to keep the heat in. I was sitting there feeling a little dejected but grateful for the warmth. I heard a scratch and small meow at the door and there she was! I was so glad she made it down there and of course all my prayers were totally disrupted. She made herself at home on my lap and proceeded to stick her nose in my coffee and beg for my cooky.

All the while she had her eye on the door watching for brother. Sure enough, he showed up too. She was perturbed and commenced growling and even gave him a little swipe when he got too close. He wasn’t much affected by that. I could hear him in the corner batting around Sydney’s little feather-ball I gave him to play with. Then he jumped in the sink and watched us from there. They are both such clowns. I guess God knew I needed some entertaining (thank You)

Yesterday E was sick and Briggs stuck close to her side all day. We are so glad he is still with us at 16. He is of course, perfect. He has taken riding in the Motorhome in his stride even at his advanced age.

Earlier that morning I was at my brother’s house putting lights on the tree and I noticed his neighbor’s cats (who he has also started feeding because they are neglected and ignored, yes it runs in the family) playing with the leaves out front. It was so cute.

The tree was cause for great excitement for Pencil Neck, my brothers youngest cat. He runs around with a zip-tie in his mouth and will retrieve for hours if you throw it. And Mima, the queen of the house has earned her status over the years by handling many different animal situations with grace and dignity.

It’s Christmas with the Kittizens for all of us and we are glad for the comic relief and comfort they give us all year long. We continue to miss Tyler, one of the best dogs there ever was. To his credit, he always knew which cats belonged to the family and knew not to chase them. And Sydney, we still miss you so. I sometimes still expect you to come when I pop the tuna can.

They make our lives better all of our fur-families don’t they? I can’t imagine what we would do without them. Merry Christmas from our fur-house to yours.

 

When even the ocean is not big enough……..

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Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

I stood at the shore and waited for that feeling……..that eraser, elixir that would make all the present circumstances melt away. But it occurred to me that sometimes even the ocean is not big enough to do that. Even if it were fresh water and we were dying of thirst, it could save us but we would still thirst again, just as Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman at the well:

………but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.

But nature has always had a way of making God close for me, and I relaxed and let it do that. I looked hard at everything, and we ate good food and had some wine too. I foraged for shells and saw some magnificent patterns in some sand dollars and drew them in my book. For me, the ocean is God’s way of saying, “Here you go……explain this one.” And all I can say is that He is bigger than everything, even anyone’s problems including my own.

Even when it feels like the small things you do are like dumping a cup of water into an ocean of grief, God is the multiplier. When it’s all you can do, He makes it more than enough.

I am finished with my one year commitment to LOEL center and this weekend is the start of a little break before I begin the next phase of retirement. I am still a little ways off from Social Security and so I work for at least three and a half (counting) more years.

Sometimes I close my eyes and remember how my room looked from the right, and from the left. When I felt like everything in my life was secure and I had the umbrella of a big company over me. But maybe that was an illusion. I still have God over me, over us.

And this place by the river is truly a tremendous blessing. It is feeling like home  I am learning here to take one day at a time and receive it with a grateful heart. Maybe that’s what God is trying to tell me, that I don’t have to have everything mapped out and planned. How many people can walk down to a river in the morning after all?

The four days at the beach did its magic. I will remember the boat ride through the slough and our walks and so many birds this year, more than we’ve ever seen.

For a little time we were suspended:

It’s easy to think that at 3:19 AM it’s just us here alone in this place and I want to remember the peace of this moment. The staccato seal barking on the pier, the seagull I just heard. Even though it’s chilly I always crack the window to stay in touch with the ocean so big and still out there like God. Each drop of time is precious. An engine starts nearby, a night fisherman going out or coming in. You fighting off a cold nearby, fighting for breath and Briggs purring in my ear with his paw on my shoulder. Just is just us down here God, don’t forget us. Just beyond, over the bridge is where we left some of E’s parents ashes. The ocean breathe in and out, until God says “No more.”

And when we pulled back into town we put everything back on like a heavy pack and I have to remember Jesus other words, just before He went to the cross:

I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

And I think of Him on that terrible cross taking on my sin and the sin of the whole world and I know I can trust Him.

 

Restoration…….(kind of like what God does with us.)

Behold, I show you a new thing……..Isaiah 43:19

Just a very partial showing of Elaine’s restoration projects I thought I would showcase today……..My Prayer Closet out of her Mom’s old beat up dresser, a window covering you can open and close, a candy scale that was sad, corroded and forgotten, and a new table for my Aunt’s wash area! It is amazing living with a restorer and creator.

And her latest, the iron was weathered and tarnished and the wood just about gone…….we were about to throw out until I said (as we were dragging it to the scrap heap)……..”Wow, this iron frame is heavy, it’s a shame to not save it!”

And the newest Lubester……..

I love how she sees things. A piece of wood is never tossed out……she has a vision for what it could be made into. And the old rusty and forgotten is seen for what it once was and what it can be again.

This is the beauty of what God longs to do in each of our lives, my friends.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

And now she is outside building a cat house for the neighbor’s cats. They have the whole acreage here to run around in but they have decided home base is the Motorhome. Well, they were neglected and the neighbor is hardly ever home so a handful of food here and there become a twice daily regular feeding time.

Like I said, this is just a sampling of what she’s done over the years and for many recipients other than myself over the years, given away as labors of love. God has blessed the work of her hands as she blesses others. She amazes me.

I am so glad God has chosen not to leave me on the scrap heap. He is the Creator and Restorer of all times and all seasons, and that includes me and you.

“He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning to the end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

Always just a little bit of mystery isn’t there? God has the right to keep some things under wraps, but someday all will be perfectly explained and understood.

Enjoy the beauty of His creation this weekend. I leave you peace…….